December 22, 2008

Review of Whopper commercial

I just saw the Whopper commercial I recently posted about. This may be the same one Shannon Joyce Prince wrote about, or a variant. My instant review: It wasn't as bad as the critics have said.

It was only a 30-second commercial, so it zipped through its images quickly. Each image was on-screen only a second or so. It's not as though the commercial dwelt on the indigenous people's primitiveness. Just the opposite.

For most people, the main problem would be the concept. As the voiceover said:We traveled to some of the most remote places in the world. We found people who've never tasted a burger. We asked them to compare Whopper vs. Big Mac.Meanwhile, captions flashed the names of the three places: Isortoq, Greenland; Budesti, Romania; and Baan Mon Kghor, Thailand.

This is silly for a couple reasons:

1) Romania is in the heart of Europe and Thailand in the heart of Asia. Both have decent sized populations and tourist trades. Even Greenland isn't that far from cosmopolitan Iceland.

Some of the most remote places on Earth are the Arctic and Antarctica, Christmas and Easter Islands, parts of Russia's vast interior, and the Saharan and Arabian deserts. The commercial's locations aren't that remote. To pretend they're thousands of miles from civilization, accessible only by airlift, is ridiculous. It only serves to make the locals seem strange and exotic.

2) Given the tourist trade in these places, I'd be surprised if there weren't a McDonald's or American-style cafe within, say, an hour's drive of each location. So it's quite possible the locals have seen and perhaps eaten hamburgers. This commercial seems fraught with the perils of any anthropological study: The locals are usually more sophisticated and knowing than the naive outsiders realize.

Indigenous people know hamburgers?

Here's one response that seems to support this claim:

Minnesota Hmong protest against BK "Whopper Virgin" campaign

Of course, the main claim in this response is that the Hmong Thai have TVs, have seen hamburgers commercials, and know what a hamburger is. But the ad claimed only that the people haven't eaten a burger. So both positions could be true.

In any case, the execution of the commercial was fine. There was no mocking of the people's unfamiliarity with eating hamburgers. One of the Greenlanders wore a parka, but that's understandable in a cold climate. Again, the commercial didn't linger long enough to make anyone look bad.

There you go...proof that I'm not always looking for the worst in everything. That I'm not the most hypersensitive person in the world when it comes to Native stereotypes. <g>

Other commercials are worse

You can find other Whopper Virgins videos on YouTube. The ones that focus on a single location tend to make the locals seem more backward and awkward. And people have raised other objections besides the ones in Prince's review. They believe the ads expose the foreigners to commercialism and exploit their poverty.

Whopper Tastelessness

Burger King defiles its 'Whopper Virgins' in a tasteless new campaign from Crispin

Burger King's "Whopper Virgins" meets with controversy


I'm not sure any of the critics proved their case. But it's probably not a good idea to do cross-cultural commercials that involve non-Westerners. The brief snippets will only make them look strange, primitive, and naive.

If you're going to portray a foreign culture, give it some time and try to do it justice. Make it more like the 4Real series and less like the horrible Zagar and Steve commercials. Better yet, skip the whole idea.

For more on the subject, see TV Shows Featuring Indians.


dmarks said...

I haven't seen any of these yet.

What would be funny would be if they traveled to Springfield (which is full of Krustyburger, and they are likely Whopper virgins). It's doable, since BK and "The Simpsons" have a long-running advertising relationship.

Anonymous said...

Relax, it's just a commercial designed to capture the attention of the weak mind.

Rob said...

FYI, I am relaxed when I post items like this.

A NY Times article named this ad campaign one of the worst of the year. I suspect all the criticism is having an effect on the ad agency.